On expected lines, hosts India won their fourth Asian Champions Trophy title after a thrilling 4-3 win in the final against Malaysia on Sunday. It was an ideal event for Craig Fulton's side leading into next month's Asian Games, where these teams will once again stand between India and a spot at next year's Paris Olympics - for which only the winners of the Asian Games will qualify, with the others having to go through a qualifying tournament early next year.
Fulton said the last three weeks, which has seen India play 11 matches - 7 in the Asian Champions Trophy and 4 in a quadrangular tournament in Spain - came at the right time, for him to be able to assess his squad and send his message through.
Complete philosophy buy-In
Perhaps the most important takeaway from this tournament for India has been how they have grown into Fulton's way of playing. "It is to his credit that in such a short period of time, he has made us all believe in his method," captain Harmanpreet Singh said of Fulton.
India were hardly perfect, but there were enough signs throughout the tournament of Fulton's ideas coming through in how the team played. The semifinal against Japan was a perfect example of Fulton's "defend to win" philosophy. India conceded only one shot on goal, and allowed Japan only eight entries into the circle. That defensive robustness set the tone for the quality in forward areas to show, as India racked up the goals, without even needing penalty corners to do so.
Indian forwards show promising signs
Fulton has been clear that he wants India to be a collective attacking unit, so that they needn't just rely on Harmanpreet's dragflicks for the goals.
India were without a mainstay in attacking areas, as Abhishek was left out of the squad for this tournament. Every attacker who was named in the squad showed glimpses of why they were picked, but the experience of Mandeep Singh and Akashdeep Singh showed, especially in the big games. The pair have an excellent relationship between them, but too often in the past have not scored enough goals.
Akashdeep's four field goals were the joint most by anyone in the tournament, with only Harmanpreet (9 goals) and Pakistan's dragflicker Muhammad Khan (5 goals) scoring more than him. Mandeep chipped in with three goals, while Gurjant Singh and Karthi Selvam scored twice each.
Sukhjeet Singh may have scored only one goal in the tournament, but he was arguably India's best attacking player in the tournament. He was a constant threat with his direct running and skill, while he has also massively improved on his decision-making in the final third.
Abhishek should return to the squad for the Asian Games, but Fulton has a nice headache awaiting him in deciding whose place he should take in Hangzhou.
Manpreet's return to midfield provides impetus
One of the biggest personnel changes that Fulton made when he first came in was to move Manpreet Singh to the left side of the defence. For years, the former captain has been India's fulcrum in midfield, around whom the whole team has revolved in open play. At this tournament, he went back to being that, as Fulton moved him back into the role that he has excelled in for years.
At the World Cup earlier this year, Manpreet played a more withdrawn role, allowing the younger players around him like Hardik Singh, Vivek Sagar Prasad and Shamsher Singh to venture forward, while he provided the insurance policy behind them. That changed this tournament, as he was full of running, driving the team forward whenever he had the opportunity to.
"Myself, Vivek and Hardik, we're defensive midfielders, but the coach has told us to get forward when we can because we have the skill to do so," Manpreet said after the final.
Wins didn't come easy - a good sign
India won in different ways, from different situations - which would've massively pleased Fulton. They had thumping victories over China, Malaysia and Pakistan in the league phase and Japan in the semifinals.
But the three games India would've learnt the most from were the final and the two league games against Korea and Japan. In the final, India came from behind showing their character and fitness. Against Korea, they were in a comfortable lead, but their performance levels completely fell off in the fourth quarter as Korea put the pressure on them. Even though they weren't at their best, they managed to hold on.
Against Japan in the league phase, India just couldn't find their way past an organized defence either on the field or from penalty corners, but they learnt from that and came out with a big win against them in the semis.
Ultimately, the side's adaptability and the ability to not panic no matter what the situation is, is what would've pleased Fulton the most. They're far from the complete article yet, but the coach knows that. The trophy win might have been expected, but arguably as important has been the number of boxes India have ticked in the last ten days.